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KERCHNER: There’s Been A Lot To Watch

The Labor Day weekend is in the rearview mirror and the racing season has gotten down to the nitty gritty.

That said, it’s been a very interesting season at every level of the sport with huge crowds not only at short-track racing’s crown jewel events but at NASCAR and IndyCar events as well. There’s certainly been a lot to watch and analyze.

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Team owner Chip Ganassi congratulates Alex Palou on winning his second NTT IndyCar Series title at Portland Int’l Raceway. (IndyCar photo)

Dirt Late Models — Two new stars have emerged on the national late model scene. After several seasons dominated by Jonathan Davenport and Brandon Overton, Bobby Pierce and Ricky Thornton Jr. have moved to the top of that class.

At this writing, each had won 27 features across various series with Pierce leading the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series standings and Thornton setting the pace in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.

As The World Turns — Spaniard Alex Palou has dominated the news on and off the track in the NTT IndyCar Series. Palou drove his Honda-powered Chip Ganassi Racing Indy car to five victories and clinched his second series championship with one race remaining.

Palou also made a big change in direction off the track, announcing he would not race for McLaren next season after having reportedly signed a contract with the team late last year while still under contract with Ganassi.

Now, while Palou’s return to CGR seems imminent, McLaren has sued Palou and Ganassi.

Changing Of The Guard — After fielding two cars for a pair of Indy 500 winners this season, Meyer Shank Racing will change direction next year with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud being replaced by rookie Tom Blomqvist and series veteran Felix Rosenqvist. Castroneves remains with the team as a co-owner and will drive a third car in the Indianapolis 500.

A Star Is Born — Twenty-year-old Australian Jett Lawrence burst onto the motocross stage, winning all 22 motos contested during the Lucas Oil Motocross Championship. Lawrence, who won the 250 Supercross crown in the spring, will be one to reckon with during the three-race playoff run of the Super Motocross Championship.

Winged Parity — It’s been a very interesting season of winged 410 sprint car racing with a ton of parity at the top of the sport.

Four drivers (David Gravel, High Bank Nationals; Logan Schuchart, Eldora Million; Donny Schatz, Kings Royal; and Kyle Larson, Knoxville Nationals) have won the four highest paying races of the season.

On the national level, Gravel has won 10 races, Rico Abreu has won 10 and Larson nine. Pennsylvania racer Freddie Rahmer leads the nation with 16 feature victories.

Grant’s Good — Justin Grant may not win a USAC championship this season, but the veteran racer has proven his speed and savvy on the way to nine USAC sprint car triumphs and a Silver Crown Series win. The reigning sprint car champion trails four-time title winner Brady Bacon by nine points through Sept. 5.

Title Races — While the NASCAR Cup Series and the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series decide their champions with playoff formats that send the drama down to the last laps of the season, there are also some splendid title battles shaping up in series that crown champions in a more traditional manner.

Logan Seavey led six-time series champion Kody Swanson by a single point atop the USAC Silver Crown Series standings with only two races remaining — one on dirt (Seavey’s strength) at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway and the second on asphalt, where Swanson excels at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Meanwhile, Bacon led Grant by only nine markers in the USAC national sprint car division.

While Seavey has a commanding lead in the USAC national midget standing, the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series battle remained very much up for grabs with Cannon McIntosh seven points ahead of Jade Avedisian.

Mental Fatigue — An off-the-track topic through the summer has been the grind that being on the road takes on drivers and crew members over the long haul for many of the touring late model and sprint car stars. Notables including Jacob Allen, Anthony Macri and Brent Marks have publicly taken time off from racing.

A Final Round — It’s been nice to see Kevin Harvick get one more go-around at the NASCAR Cup Series schedule with an eye toward leaving the cockpit on his terms.

Harvick’s graceful and timely exit looks even better in the wake of Kurt Busch’s recent retirement announcement due to head injuries suffered last year, and with 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud staring at an unclear racing future with head injuries incurred in a crash at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course earlier this season.


This story appeared in the Sept 13, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.

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